Book Review: Story Genius, by Lisa Cron (Part 1)

I have to say this right off the bat. This book was a game-changer for me. I was struggling with my work-in-progress. Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, forced me look at my story in a new way.

Story Genius takes such a comprehensive and logical approach to writing that it cannot be summarized in one blog post. It is a logical and methodical blueprint for writers. Since I cannot do it justice in a single essay, I will devote several blog posts to this valuable resource for writers.

Cron devotes a lot of the early chapters to describing what “story” is. “Story is about what happens internally, not externally,” she writes “Not fully grasping the importance of this is what tanks countless novels. We don’t come to story to watch the events unfold; we come to experience them through the protagonist’s eyes, as she struggles with what to do next.”

She provides writers with a useful definition of story: “A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result.” It is the internal change that writers need to focus on. The main character’s internal struggle is the “third rail” of every good story. She describes it as the “live wire that sparks our interest and drives the story forward.”

So the writer starts with the internal struggle, which Cron defines as the conflict between what the protagonist wants (her desire) and the “misbelief” (often a fear) that prevents her from getting it. And this is where I got hung up in my work-in-progress. I never identified the protagonist’s misbelief–at least in the first three or four drafts of the work. If I didn’t know her misbelief, how could I possibly know what she really wanted? I ended up with a story that was a series of events, with struggles along the way for sure, but the transformation lacked potency because I hadn’t clearly developed the internal meaning and story logic.

Another point Cron makes is that meaning in a story emanates from emotion. “It is emotion, rather than logic, that telegraphs meaning. This emotion is what your novel must be wired to transmit, straight from the protagonist to us,” she writes.

So at the outset, Cron urges the writer must ask these questions:

1. What does your protagonist want?
2. Why does she want it?
3. What will getting it mean to her?
4. What are her misbeliefs? (It is a misbelief, but it feels so true).

What she calls “the origin scene” is the centerpiece of the story. That is the scene when the protagonist’s misbelief takes root. It is crucial. It must be a full-fledged scene that has the protagonist go into it believing one thing and then her expectations are not met. Her viewpoint changes as a result.

In my next post, I will explore how Cron explains where the writer should take the story once the misbelief has occurred









1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review: Story Genius, by Lisa Cron (Part 1)

  1. Awesome insights– this is why the good parts of my first novel re great, and the bad parts terrible, as I can see in a flash–

    A next level writing tip! Thanks for sharing.

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